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Community cleanup group hits landmark

VISTA — One might expect a block party to leave a neighborhood in shambles, but the 800 volunteers who came to Hackamore Street in western Vista for the 10th annual Vistans ROC on Oct. 4 left the neighborhood tidier than it had been in decades.
The ROC stands for Revitalizing Our Community, and the decade-old institution is a joint project between the city of Vista and the Townsite Community Partnership. It was conceived to combat urban blight by organizing volunteers to clear out debris, replace ragged landscaping and repaint old walls in selected neighborhoods. This year’s event was special for several reasons. It included the 250th house serviced by the program and it was the first Vistans ROC to be held outside the downtown Townsite area. The Santa Clara drive neighborhood was the biggest yet with respect to area with the 27 homes targeted for revitalization spread across a number of small streets. The hilly community was also the most geographically difficult to date.
“The terrain here … has been an obstacle,” event director Catherine Manis said. “Normally the project area has been flat, the yards were flat, so now volunteers are having to trek uphill. That has been a little challenging.”
The mood was electric as deejay Bob McKein pumped up the energy with classic rock from the 1970s and shoutouts to the volunteer groups, but it was still a lot of hard work. The Washington Middle School students fixing up one house answered the question, “Is it fun?” with a chorus of honest yeses and nos. Their teacher Frank McLaughlin, however, said he was just loving life that morning. “I’m sure that by the end of the day, it’s going to look awesome,” he said.
The neighborhood, founded by families of Camp Pendleton Marines in the 1950s, went through a remarkable transformation as the day progressed. Residents came out of their homes to help or to simply watch in near-disbelief.
“I can’t believe it,” 50-year resident Ruth Merrill said. “I have to pinch me. This is stuff I hear happening to other people, but not me!” The retiree added she only wished the project had begun earlier so she could have gotten involved as a volunteer.
Teacher Jose Maldanado’s yard had been filled with dead branches and abandoned furniture projects. Like most teachers, he said, he had put off a landscape overhaul for years until the job became too daunting to consider.
“It’s a big blessing,” he said. “I was almost crying when people came over from the city and told me about the project. I have no words to express my gratitude.”
The Vistans ROC event restores a neighborhood to its former glory cosmetically, and it also brings it closer together by offering a common, bonding experience for its residents, said Karl Schwarm who started the event in Vista and then went on to initiate a similar program in San Marcos.
“The big part is getting that sense of community back,” he said. “The good story is when we do this in a block, neighbors really get to know each other better.”